UNC Proposes Renovation at Porthole Alley That Would Require Company Relocations


As part of the UNC Facilities Services campus master plan, the university designed a renovation project for Porthole Alley on Franklin Street with Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake.

On Thursday and Friday, the University held several briefings on the Porthole Alley redevelopment project, the walkway connecting the UNC campus to Franklin Street. The lane is between 134 and 144 E. Franklin Street.

The proposed development could involve the demolition of buildings, which could force local businesses, such as Cosmic Cantina and Johnny T-shirt, to relocate.

“We started in January 2020 with public briefings to really hear what the community thinks and interests and their thoughts on this site and what could be happening here,” said Richard Maimon, architect and partner of KieranTimberlake, during an online information session. Thursday.

Maimon said the suggested redevelopment will establish closer links between downtown Chapel Hill and the UNC campus. Following the renovations, Porthole Alley will house the UNC Undergraduate Admissions and the UNC Visitors Center.

Plans include adding two new buildings, one on each side of the lane. There will also be transparent suspension bridges connecting the buildings, as well as a sculpture garden and a dining courtyard.

The object of the project is to design “spaces that truly bring people together with a sense of creative collision, a certain transparency, openness and a sense of the contemporary alongside the dynamic historical institution,” said Maimon.

The plans received criticism from residents of Chapel Hill, including concerns about the traffic that would accompany construction and the risk of losing Chapel Hill’s historic aesthetic.

University architect Evan Yassky said the redevelopment plans will take into account traffic delays caused by construction.

“Obviously there is a lot of foot, car and bicycle traffic in this area which will have a plan well in advance of any need to divert lanes or other lanes around the site,” Yassky said.

During the webinar, community members expressed concerns about the new lane buildings and modern architecture interfering with the sense of community of Chapel Hill. The redevelopment architects discussed many demolition options, but decided to preserve the Carolina Coffee Shop location, demolishing the building at 134 E. Franklin Street instead.

UNC junior Ryan Shanklin said he had many memories inside the Johnny T-shirt and Cantina Cosmic.

“I remember my parents taking me and my brother to Johnny T-Shirt when I was younger, so I would hate for other families and students to miss out on these Franklin Street traditions,” Shanklin said.

The Carolina Coffee Shop, which is located just off Porthole Alley, will remain in the same location. KieranTimberlake works directly with the companies concerned, with the aim of preserving their activities on Franklin Street.

The redevelopment process is still in its early stages. The next step in the redevelopment process is to secure zoning rights for the architectural firm and begin planning community housing around the traffic caused by construction.

No plan has been made for when the businesses at 134 E. Franklin Street will need to relocate.



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